Early Diagnosis of Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), about 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with autism in the United States.

Early diagnosis of autism is crucial for effective treatment and therapy. The earlier the diagnosis, the sooner interventions can begin, leading to better outcomes for the child.

Symptoms and Signs of Autism

The symptoms of autism vary from person to person, but commonly include difficulty in social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. Parents or caregivers should look for the following symptoms in their child:

  • Lack of eye contact
  • Difficulty in social interaction
  • Delayed speech or language development
  • Repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping or rocking
  • Intense interest in certain topics or objects
  • Sensory issues such as sensitivity to light, sound, or touch

It is essential to note that not all children with autism show the same symptoms. Some may have delays in language and communication, while others may have difficulty in social interaction.

Screening for Autism

Screening for autism can detect the symptoms and signs of autism at an early stage. Pediatricians or family doctors use standardized screening tools to assess children’s development and identify developmental delays. Parents or caregivers can also use these screening tools at home to monitor their child’s development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children be screened for autism at 18 and 24 months.


The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) is a screening tool that pediatricians use to identify early signs of autism in children aged 16 to 30 months. It consists of 23 yes-or-no questions that assess the child’s behavior, communication, and social skills.

If a child scores above the cutoff for the M-CHAT, the pediatrician may refer the child for further evaluation for autism.

Early Screening for Autism Project

The Early Screening for Autism Project (ESAP) is a public health program in Australia that aims to identify children with autism before the age of three years. It provides free early autism screening to children aged 18 months to three years in selected regions of Australia.

The ESAP program uses the Australian Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (AMCHAT) to screen children for autism. Parents can complete the screening questionnaire online or with a health care professional.

If a child is identified as at-risk for autism, the family may receive follow-up outreach and support from ESAP.

Diagnosis of Autism

The diagnosis of autism involves a comprehensive evaluation by a team of professionals, such as a pediatrician, psychologist, and speech therapist.

The diagnosis includes a clinical observation of the child’s behavior, interviews with parents or caregivers, and standardized assessments of the child’s development.

There is no single test to diagnose autism, and the diagnosis is based on clinical judgment and observation.

Importance of Early Diagnosis

Early diagnosis of autism leads to better outcomes for children with autism.

Early intervention, such as therapy and education, can help children with autism improve their communication, social interaction, and behavior. It can also provide support to families and caregivers.

Research has shown that early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI) can improve cognitive and language abilities and reduce the severity of autism symptoms in young children with autism.


Early diagnosis of autism is essential for effective treatment and therapy. Parents or caregivers should be aware of the signs of autism and seek screening or evaluation if they notice developmental delays or unusual behaviors in their child.

In Australia, the Early Screening for Autism Project provides free early autism screening for children aged 18 months to three years in selected regions.

Early intervention, such as EIBI, can provide support to children with autism and their families and lead to better outcomes for children with autism.


What are the benefits of early diagnosis of autism?

Early diagnosis of autism can bring significant benefits in terms of early intervention and treatment. It helps children with autism get the support and services they need, such as behavioral therapy, speech therapy, and special education. Early diagnosis can also help parents and caregivers understand their child’s needs and behavior, and foster a better relationship with their child.

What are the signs and symptoms of autism?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social interaction, communication, and behavior. The signs and symptoms of autism vary widely, but they generally appear in early childhood and persist throughout life. Common signs and symptoms of autism include lack of social skills, difficulty with communication, repetitive behaviors, obsessive interests, and sensory sensitivities.

How is autism diagnosed?

Autism is usually diagnosed through a combination of developmental screenings, assessments, and evaluations. The process involves observing the child’s behavior and development, conducting formal and informal tests, and gathering information from parents, caregivers, and health professionals. Early diagnosis of autism is important, as it can lead to earlier interventions and improved outcomes for children and families.


1. Fountain, C., Winter, A. S., & Bearman, P. S. (2012). Six developmental trajectories characterize children with autism. Pediatrics, 129(5), e1112-e1120. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2011-1601

2. Zwaigenbaum, L., Bauman, M. L., Fein, D., Pierce, K., Buie, T., Davis, P. A., … & Wetherby, A. (2015). Early screening of autism spectrum disorder: recommendations for practice and research. Pediatrics, 136(Supplement 1), S41-S59. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2014-3667E

3. Maenner, M. J., Shaw, K. A., & Baio, J. (2020). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorder among children aged 8 years—autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 11 sites, United States, 2016. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Surveillance Summaries, 69(4), 1-12. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.ss6904a1